One person’s tourist destination is another person’s home …… (thoughts from Bucharest)

bucharest 2The tour bus has been winding through the street of Bucharest Romania for a while now and it is apparent that they are mostly stalling until our hotel accommodations are ready.  We have driven by and photographed the huge parliament building formerly known as the “people’s palace” twice, and passed numerous pretty squares, many statues, and a lovely opera house and huge museum.  We don’t care.  We are tired.  We’ve seen remarkably similar things for the past nine days and we just want to get to our rooms, kick off our shoes and take warm showers.  Such is the life of a group traveler.

I don’t like exploring new places by way of preplanned itineraries and I don’t like having to go everywhere with a group.  I like doing my own thing. But I was offered the opportunity to go with my sister, a small business owner in the travel industry, as she researched a particular tour operator.  See eastern Europe at a wonderful discount. So here I am on a bus in Bucharest, watching twenty or so of my fellow tourists who are from China laugh when they discover that the big exhibit at the museum here features the famous Terracotta warriors from back home.

My sister and I have gotten along well over this trying week of schlepping around on a schedule, but once we get to our room we have a rare argument, and it has to do with looking pretty.  Not us. Romania.

bucharest 1On the endless bus ride around town, we both studied the massive grey condo buildings that house the occupants of Bucharest, many of them erected when the country went rapidly from a mostly agrarian economy in the 1940’s to a largely industrial one under the particularly oppressive communist dictatorship that took root here after WWII. Other older buildings were recycled into condos as these were built. Now all their owners have used their ingenuity and limited resources to improve their lives. Air conditioning units of all shapes and sizes are randomly distributed over the exterior, and the ubiquitous balconies have undergone ad hoc conversions into sun rooms of every imaginable style and color.

To me, it was a riotous explosion  of resourcefulness. Maybe not pretty, but commendable. To my sister, it was a riotous explosion of ugliness, particularly on the many formerly beautiful older converted buildings.  Maybe understandable, but still such a shame.

“What they really need is some sort of home owners association,” she asserts. She clearly has not had the less than pleasant run-ins with a home owners association that I have had.

“Are you kidding? First communism, then home owner’s associations? What have you got against these people?” I ask.

She is thinking of a small historical town she lives near in in western Illinois.  Strict restrictions keep its historical buildings authentic and pretty.  The owners are glad to comply, or they can live elsewhere.  Hordes of visitors from Chicago come every summer weekend to marvel at the quaintness and  bring in tourist dollars. Everyone is happy.

I am thinking of an article I read in a Lonely Planet book bemoaning the disappearance of the cute thatched roofs in Ireland.  The visiting author thought that the transition to more modern but ugly roofs was a shame until he talked to someone who lived there.  Thatched roofs leak.  They are drafty, hard to maintain and harbor mice. If you like them so much, go build your own house with one, a helpful Irishman said. We don’t have any obligation to be uncomfortable just to look cute for you. This is our home.

I side with the local Irishman, although I admit that it is more of a dilemma for a tourist destination like Ireland, a place that makes a good deal of its income from those who come see its cuteness. Bucharest, however, is not a place trying particularly hard to attract tourists. It is simply a city that people call home, filled with folks like me just trying to get by who don’t want to be told how to manage their own living space so that they will look pretty to tourists like me who are merely passing through.

“Fair enough,” my sister concedes.  “They can build their homes any way they want. But I don’t have to drive around the city and look at them.” I agree that she does not. And with that we decide that we are done sightseeing for this trip. Forget the museum, massive parliament building or anything else. We are not going anywhere except to go get lunch. We wander down a side street and settle on a very pretty little café and everybody is happy, including  our waitress.

 

If you would like to read other posts from this trip check out  “That which does not kill us …. thoughts from Budapest” on my blog for the novel x0. Also check out “A lot of pissed-off people ….. thoughts from Belgrade”  on my website for the novel z2.

It just keeps getting weirder….

Who supports an individual’s right to pursue happiness? Everybody, if you ask them.  Recently a group in Minnesota called “Republicans United for Freedom” launched a movement and website dedicated to “defend individual liberty, promote strong families, and secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Minnesota.” That’s right, you read it correctly. The site goes on to state that “The freedom to marry is not a partisan value, and we believe that excluding same-sex couples from marriage is contradictory to our values of personal responsibility, limited government, and individual freedom.” I, for one, am impressed and hope that this is the start of a movement in the GOP.

statesMeanwhile, Californians and New Yorkers suffer from the least amount of personal freedom in the nation, at least according to a survey called “Freedom in the 50 States”  published last week by the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center. So reports Fox news here.  The culprit in New York is largely Mayor Bloomberg and his well know campaigns to limit salt intake and soft drink size. California limits on freedom have mostly to do with taxes and business regulation, things that may not occur to most of us when we think about personal freedom.  The state with the most freedom? According to this study it’s North Dakota. I’m originally from Kansas so I try not to make disparaging jokes about other states, but I want you to know that it was really hard to resist this one.

NOT going to hell in a hand-basket

Many people my age (over 50) seem to enjoy pointing out the many ways in which society has decayed.  From breaking up with your boyfriend by text message to posting videos of a rape on facebook, let’s face it, the ammunition is there. So maybe a little perspective is in order.

As I child I watched a movie called “Advise and Consent” with my parents. The only thing I remember at all about the plot was that some member of congress was blackmailed. When I pressed for information, both of my parents were too embarrassed to answer and later my mother madoilyde an attempt to explain homosexuality to me. This was still a world in which blacks could not eat in white restaurants, women with career ambitions were regularly denounced as ugly, and I met protestant children who were not suppose to socialize with me because I was catholic. By the way, I attended daily mass back then with a lace doily pinned to my head because it was sinful for women to be in church without their head covered. When I lost my doily (which I often did) I had to use a kleenex instead, because looking silly was far better than offending God with my bare head. Sigh….

click to visit Chris Zarconi photography

click to visit Chris Zarconi photography

Today and tomorrow the supreme court hears two cases concerning gay marriage. I hope that those rights are upheld, first and foremost because I am a strong believer in the right of every human to pursue happiness. I believe that individual rights trump arbitrary rules that protect no one but rather have been put in place for the convenience or comfort of part of the population. (I’m just not comfortable with gays, with African Americans in the same restaurant as me, with women  who work outside the home or who are in church with bare heads).  I don’t believe that we get to limit each other merely to make ourselves comfortable.

Tonight, I am taking a few minutes just to be amazed.  Yes, there are things in this world that are worse that they were fifty years ago. (Fast food.) And there are things that are better. (Produce aisles in any grocery store.) And then there are things that are just plain amazing. Tomorrow, the Supreme court considers a case concerning gay marriage. People are lined up outside to show support and 58% of the population agrees with them.

Allow a sort-of old person to point out just how incredible this turn of events really is, no matter what the court decides. A society that moves towards more love and tolerance is NOT going to hell.  And I have absolutely no idea what a hand-basket is.

 

 

Liberals and moderates like freedom too

At the crux of the novel y1 is the importance of personal freedom.  The right to be who you are, and to enjoy your own life in the ways that you choose, form the very backbone of the story.

patriotAnd yet when I search the news for articles on personal freedom (I like to search on themes that interest me) I inevitably end up at sites with a socially conservative slant (and some with a very conservative slant).  “Freedom” seems to be the operative word here.  It is a word that is owned more by the right, along with concepts like patriotism and hard work.  Yet arguably much of the agenda of the left has less to do with funding public radio and taxing the rich then it does with securing the rights of all individuals, including those who have been traditionally denied those freedoms that we all cherish.

I was interested to read the table below, printed on the Forbes website here, and from the Fraser Institute’s new book “Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom” produced in partnership with the Liberales Institut in Germany and the Cato Institute in the United States, and edited by the Fraser Institute’s Fred McMahon. You may be surprised at how low the US ranks (we all thought we’d be number one, right?), and by who else is in the top ten. Denmark, by the way, also shows up as one of the happiest countries in the world (see my post on world happiness here).  These folks are clearly doing something correct over there.

Human_Freedom_rev

Can we agree across the political spectrum that life in Zimbabwe must be bleak indeed?  I think that we can.  How about agreeing that the right to pursue individual happiness is a valued treasure and we hope that our nation remains committed to this ideal?  Yes, we can probably all agree on that as well.  Do we all always agree on the best ways to maximize individual freedom?  No, we don’t. But agreeing about what we do value strikes me as an excellent beginning for cooperation.

And, by the way ……  us moderate liberals also tend to have a fair amount of patriotism ourselves and to be willing and able to work hard to keep our society strong.  After all, these are our liberties we are talking about here too.